Patriots’ Member in Conversion Move, Finds a New Faith
Foxborough — As a linebacker for the New England Patriots, Andre Tippet would often celebrate the sacking of an opposing quarterback— a task he accomplished 100 times during his 12 -year career. Now, as a husband and a father, the patriots’ new assistant director of professional scouting celebrates the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays with his wife and 2-year-old daughter at their home in Sharon.
Born a Baptist, the Birmingham, Ala., native underwent a ritual conversion last fall under the supervision of Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom, a reform synagogue in Needham. Tippet 38, will discuss his journey to Judaism next Thursday evening, Feb 19, at the downtown Boston offices of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. The talk, in which Sonsino plans to participate, is the first in a three part series, Federation 101, sponsored by CJP’s young leadership Division.
In a telephone interview from his office at Foxboro Stadium Tuesday, Tippet told the Advocate that he converted to Judaism because the religion interested him and because he and his wife, Rhonda, who is Jewish, wanted to raise their children in a Jewish household. He said that his wife did not pressure him to convert. Rather, celebrating the holidays with her for several years, getting married by a rabbi and studying the tradition, he said, led him to believe that “it [Judaism] was something I would find interesting.”
A martial arts expect— he holds a black belt in three styles of Karate and studies with an 8th degree black belt from Japan — tippet said he admired the “self discipline” required by some Jewish practices, such as fasting on Yom Kippur. The sense of community also appealed to him, he added
The biggest thing that I liked was the customs,” said Tippett the all-time Patriots’ sack leader with 100, “what goes into each and every celebration and the holidays especially the High Hly Days.”
About a year after Tippett began exploring becoming Jewish, he enrolled in the “Introduction to a Judaism” course offered by the local office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the umbrella organization of Reform synagogued.
Sonsino, who taught the course, said that, beyond the regular assignments he required his students to attend Friday night services at his synagogue and to read additional materials, such as the book “A History of the Jewish Experience.”
“He never indicated to the class who he was,” Sonsino said during a recent interview. “He did not expect or receive any special treatment.”
When the five-month course concluded, Tippett asked Sonsino to sponsor him for formal conversation to Judaism. To prepare for that event, they studied together three times outside of the class, Sonsino said. Tippett entered the mikveh or ritual bath, last September 16 during a ceremony witnessed by Patriots owner and Jewish philanthropist Robert Kraft.
“He [Sonsino] made it very special for me,” said Tippett, the Patriots’ selection in the second round of the 1982 National Football League amateur draft. “He was very thorough in his teachings. He didn’t make it easy for anybody in the class.”
Once I’m in, I’m in’
Tippett said several people friends included are surprised to hear that he is Jewish. Once, he recalled, he told someone that he belonged to the Blue Hill Country Club in Canton. The person remarked, “Isn’t that a Jewish club?” Tippett said he replied “Yeah, well, I’m Jewish.”
That he is black is one reason for the surprise. Tippet believes. “A lot of people have never met a black Jew before,” he said.
At the same time, Tippet said he has become more aware of anti-Semitism. He said he speaks up on hearing remarks that he once would let pass.
“I’m very conscious of certain conversations that take place,” he said.
Tippet said he and his family try to attend Shabbat services once or twice a month and plan to join Temple Sinai, a Reform synagogue in Sharon. He also expects to participate in the Jewish community as time allows. With his expecting the couple’s second child soon and with his new duties with the Patriots, which range from evaluating college and professional players to doing advance scouting of the team’s opponents, he has little spare time these days, he acknowledged.
“Once I’m in, I’m in,” Tippet said o the Jewish community.
Federation 101 co-chair Lynne Dockser said the program Tippett and Sonsino will speak at is a forum for local Jews to explore an “interesting topic of significance.” Event organizers hope that participants eventually become more involved in CJP and the Jewish community after attending the lectures, she said